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Photo Tutorial: How to Make Felt Mice and The One That Got Away

Felt Mouse Tutorial - 1Header with Text

You asked for it; you got it. Following my post on the felt mouse invasion we launched upon my sister’s new home in the country, some of you requested a step-by-step tutorial on how to make them. Here’s my attempt. If you have any questions at the end of this, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to clarify.

To start, print my mouse pattern on an 8.5″ x 11″ standard sheet of paper.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Printed Pattern

There are two patterns on the page – one for a large mouse and one for a small. Cut the page in half, and then you can decide if you’d like to make a large or small meeska buddy. For this tutorial, I’m using the large.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Pattern Cut in Half

Carefully cut out the pattern pieces. I like to cut just outside the line since it will be trimmed off as I cut the felt. I’m a visual person & this helps me somehow.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Cut Out Pattern Pieces

Next, you will need:
1 felt square in the color of your choice for the body
1 felt square (or piece of one) in a contrasting color for ears
embroidery thread (also called floss) that matches the body color
quilt batting or cotton balls for stuffing
an embroidery needle with a sharp point
black beads or buttons for eyes (2 per mouse)
small black pompom for nose (1 per mouse)
black embroidery thread for whiskers
sharp scissors & clear craft glue

I decided on a pale grey felt for this tutorial because it photographs well. For the ears, I chose black to show off the stitching. So, let’s get started.

First, fold your body felt so that it’s wide enough to fit the main pattern piece.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Place Body Pattern on Fold

The long straight edge on the left should lay directly on the edge of the fold. You can pin the pattern pieces down if it helps, or simple hold tight and cut along the arched edge of the pattern. Sharp scissors are a must for me.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Body Cut on Fold

At this point, I like to go ahead and cut out all the pieces. I’m a process girl – cut all the pieces, stitch all the pieces, connect all the pieces.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Pattern Pieces Cut Out

If you’re not a certified anal retentive like me, you can cut & work one piece at a time. It’s really a matter of whatever you’re comfortable with. Once you’re ready to sew, the first step is to pick a thread color that matches the body.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Pick a Thread That Matches the Body Color

I chose this nice grey shade; it’s a great match. Did you notice the spool? It’s actually a foam wine cork. Can we sidetrack for a minute? I want to show you how I reorganized my embroidery thread. I was inspired by a bag of horribly tangled embroidery thread and some heavy cursing (don’t ask).

Felt Mouse Tutorial - My Organized Thread Box

After untangling all my embroidery thread, I grabbed my jar of foam corks and a sharp paring knife. First, I cut a slit in the top of each cork; then I cut out a shallow “V” notch at the top of the slit.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Corked Embroidery Thread

Using a strip of blue painter’s tape, I secured one end to the side of the cork. I then wrapped then entire skein of embroidery thread around the cork, leaving approximately 1 1/2 to 2″ as a ‘tail’ to tuck into the slit on top. The ‘V’ helps you find the slit in the top of the cork (because corks tend to self-heal when cut) and the deep slit holds the thread firmly in place. Once all your thread is corked, they can be easily stored in a metal tin or plastic tub with a lid. I used this metal tin because it was big enough to lay all the corks flat, which made it easier to see which colors I have. It also gave me enough room to store a pin cushion, extra packages of needles, a pair of scissors and a small embroidery hoop. I love it.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - My Embroidery Box

Now back to the mice! I like to use an embroidery needle with a nice deep hole because I’m turning 50 in March and it would take me all day to thread a smaller needle – even with reading glasses. Here’s a snap of what I’m talking about, in case you decide to pick some up at your local craft store.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Embroidery Needle With Deep Eye

That deep, wide hole makes it easy to thread embroidery thread through the eye of the needle. It’s especially handy if you’re using all 6 strands at once. Did I just lose the beginners? Let me clarify. Embroidery thread is made up of 6 strands of thread twisted together. If you want bold stitching, you use all 6 threads. If not, you can separate out threads to use as many as you like. For stitching up these mice, I used 3 threads (except for the whiskers, when I used all 6). It helps to cut the length of thread you want to use BEFORE trying to separate threads. I like to work with a piece about 18″ long most of the time.

So, starting with a needle threaded with 3 strands of your embroidery thread, grab the body felt, fold it in half (just as you did when you cut it) and let’s start at the bottom (or wide) end. I use a straight stitch for this.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Evenly Spaced Stitches are Key

Unless you’re planning to fashion a costume for your mouse, it’s important to keep your stitches evenly spaced. It makes a big difference in how the finished mouse looks. Just take your time. When you reach the tip of the nose, tie a good knot, then run your needle through the felt into the cavity of the body. Cutting the thread inside the mouse hides any loose ends when it’s knotted. I do this to all the pieces to make the finished part neater. When done, it will look like this:

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Body - Stitched on the Curved Side

If you have a bag of quilt batting (fluffy filler) lying around the house, grab it. If not, you can use cotton balls. They’re much cheaper than a bag of quilt batting, and you won’t need many to stuff a mouse. I find that 6-10 cotton balls are usually enough to stuff a large mouse. First, I like to stretch them out and fluff them up a little. It makes for a less lumpy mouse.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Stuffing - Cotton Ball Stretched Out

Grab a cotton ball ‘strip’ and gently stuff it down into the nose. If it helps, you can close your scissors and use the pointy end to gently push the cotton into the tip of the nose. Then add additional cotton until the mouse is filled.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Stuff Lightly With Cotton Balls or Batting

When I first started, I overstuffed my mice to the point that they were too firm. I didn’t think much of it until I tried to sew on the other body parts. If your mouse is overstuffed with filler, you’ll have a hard time running your needle through the body to attach other pieces. Plus, I’ve found that a less-stuffed mouse just looks better. When I’m happy with how stuffed my mouse is, I like to form a ring of cotton to put at the very bottom.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Stuffing - Finish with a Cotton Coil

That little cotton ring forms a base so your mouse will sit up properly when he’s done. Now grab your circle you cut for the bottom and let’s put it into place.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Bottom - Placing the Bottom Panel

Grab your needle and thread and stitch the bottom onto the mouse. As usual, if you start your knot inside the body cavity it won’t show when it’s finished.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Bottom - Hide Knot Inside Before Stitching

Watch your stitching so it’s evenly spaced again. This part is going to show.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Attaching the Bottom

When you’re done, tie a good knot to secure it and trim the loose threads at the end off. If you start and end at the ‘spine’ seam, you won’t have to worry about the knot showing. We’re going to cover it with the tail later.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Parts - Prepped & Ready to Assemble

And now you’re ready to assemble the other body parts. Try not to notice that some of mine are already finished in the background of that photo. We’ll get to all of those in a minute. For now, let’s start with the ears. Grab one of your ‘outside’ pieces and center the contrasting center piece on top.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Matching Ear Pieces

Feel free to move the inside color around until it’s centered and you’re happy with the way it looks. If it overhangs the outside color at the bottom edge, just trim off the excess felt. Once you’re happy with it, grab your needle and stitch it down. I love to use the body color so it shows up as contrast stitching on the ear. Again, I like to start with my knot on the back side so it doesn’t show.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Ear - Hiding the Starting Knot

I’m not sure what this stitch is officially called, but I like to run my needle past the next stitch, then come back to make each ‘loop’. Why? Because it allows me to barely run my needle through the depth of the grey felt so my stitches aren’t as noticeable on the back of each ear.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Ear - Detail Stitch Shown

If you’re not concerned about the back of the ears, just do a regular stitch to secure it. You’re using embroidery thread in the body color, so it’s not a big deal. Again, I’m anal retentive and I tend to get hung up on little details like that. I apologize. Here’s what it looks like when it’s done:

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Ear - Finished Detail Stitch

You don’t need to worry about tying a knot at the end, because we’re going to immediately fold the ear in half at the bottom edge and stitch it closed.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Fold Ear in Half at Bottom Edge

Stitch across the straight edge at the bottom of the ear, just as you did when you sewed the body together, then tie a knot to secure it. All done!

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Finished Ear

Now do the same to the other ear, and we’re ready to stitch them onto the body. I like to start by placing the first ear (facing forward, of course) about 1″ from the tip of the nose, and about 1/3″ to 1/2″ from the seam of the ‘spine’. Then stitch it down (be careful not to go through the mouse and out the other side or you’ll sew your mouse shut); knot it and snip off the end. Like this:

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Attaching the First Ear

To make sure I get the second ear in the correct position, I line it up like this:

Felt Mouse Tutorial - To Place 2nd Ear - Line Up with First

You can pin it into place if that helps. Just make sure you reach inside the mouse body to make sure you’re not pinning or sewing all the way through the other side. Once both ears are attached, you can pry them open and move them up or down a little until you like how they look.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - The Ears Are On

Ready to make a tail? Me, too! Grab your tail piece and make sure you have enough thread in your needle. I hate to start a piece and have to stop and tie knots in the middle. Once I start a piece, I like to go to the end without stopping. I know! I told you I have issues! Don’t be like me. Just grab your tail (heehee)… I mean grab your mouse tail, and fold it in half at the bottom edge. We’re going to sew it up just like we did the body.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Fold Tail in Half & Start Stitching at Base

Do you have a problem with your nails getting brittle and splitting and breaking off in the winter? I do. Drives me crazy. Anywho, stitch up your mouse tail until you get as close to the tip as possible. You’ll see what I mean when you get there.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Fold Tail in Half & Stitch Edge to Tip

The more narrow that tail gets, the tougher it is to stitch it shut. When it’s done, it should look something like this:

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Finished Tail

Now grab your mouse body, and we’ll attach it at the ‘spine’ seam.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Attaching the Tail

I find it easier to flip him upside down.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Tail - Line Up Tail w Base - Tail Pointing to Head

And now your tail is attached. Here’s the bonus to all that tail stitching – it gives it enough structure to bend and shape the tail any way you want, which gives your mouse more personality. You can thank me later. So now you’re ears and tail are on. Congratulations! You’re almost finished.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Almost There

Let’s move on to arms. I think the arms are what makes these mice so adorable. And versatile. A mouse with arms can do just about anything. More on that later. For now, grab an arm piece and we’ll stitch it up just like we did the tail – starting at the flat end. Stop when you get to the part where the palm flares, and secure with a strong knot. I like to run the thread back down through the arm before I cut it so the knot doesn’t show.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Tuck the Thread Tail Down Into Arm

Here’s where I just get crazy stupid excited. I LOVE making these arms and hands. It adds so much personality to your mouse. And it’s seriously fun. Grab your scissors, and let’s start cutting fingers for your mouse.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Hand - Cutting the First Finger

Using sharp scissors, remove little curved triangles to form 4 fingers.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Hands - Trim Triangles Out to form Fingers

Gah! Isn’t that adorable? I just love these little mouse hands.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Finished Arm

When both hands are done, we’re ready to stitch the arms on. I like to attach them both at the same time by pinching them together on the ‘spine’ seam.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Arms - Attaching to Body at the Spine

I really stitch these down well, so I’ll go over it twice before I knot it off. Here’s what I mean when I say arms give these mice such character.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - One Body Down - One Face To Go

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Yo - Can a Mouse Get a Face Here

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Papa Can You See Me

See? They don’t even have faces yet, and they’re starting to come to life. This must be what being an animator feels like. Please say you’re just as crazy about this as I am so I don’t feel like a total craft geek. Please.

Maybe we should just move on to faces. Every mouse needs whiskers. For this, I use all 6 strands of the embroidery thread. Tying a knot about 1″ from the end, I pull the needle through the end of the snout (about 1/4″ from the tip). The knot stops the whiskers from pulling all the way through.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Sewing Whiskers Onto Snout

Once it’s through, cut the second side to the same length as the first (1″). To secure them, I use a toothpick and apply a small dab of clear craft glue at the base of both sides of the whiskers. Tip: just as wax is used by men to keep handlebar mustaches in line, so goes Chapstick for wee little mousetaches – keeps those whiskers separated & stylish.

Next, we’ll place the eyes. If I’m not sure where I want to put them, I grab a few straight pins with the balls on the end. I just keep jabbing the mouse in the head until I like how it looks. If you need to, mark the spot with a pencil.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Testing Eye Placement With Pins

I buy shiny round beads for the eyes and tiny pompoms for noses. (They love me at Hobby Lobby.) Once I sew them down, I hit them with a dab of clear craft glue just to make sure they’re securely attached.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Beady Eyes & PomPom Nose

You’re done! Now you’re free to embellish your mouse any way you see fit. For this one, I created a flower from an antique button. I thought it would be sweet to have her holding a flower, since she’s making new friends here.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Finished Mouse - Hello Cutie

It almost looks like a bridal bouquet. Which is an insight into how my mind works. Now that I’ve seen her and thought ‘bridal bouquet’, there’s a good chance I’ll end up making a wedding dress and veil for her. Because in my mind, more is more; and more is better.

And that brings me to The One That Got Away from Sister #4.

My Big Sister and I started this mouse project separately, but there came a time during the summer when Mom decided to visit and Big Sis decided to join us. At that time, we committed to combining the mouse tribes into one big happy family and finish it together so we could tag them and box them up in one tidy bundle. We made the last few mice together while sipping cocktails and chatting around the living room coffee table.

And that’s where Grandpa FisherMouse came to life. He was the very last mouse I crafted, and I fell so head-over-heels for him, I told the girls I wasn’t sure I could turn loose of him. I mean… could you?

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Grandpa FisherMouse - Basket Side

I just love him. He has a fishing net with a few small fish in it. And a fishing pole with one on the hook (and there’s a bobber on the line). He even has a fishing vest with teeny tiny buttons and a trout basket.

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Grandpa FisherMouse - Vest Close-Up

This is where that anal retentive attention to detail comes into play. Sometimes I can’t stop myself. He has a little print bandana, a black felt hat, and I even braided a band to go around the hat. He reminds me of the movie ‘A River Runs Through It’ – which may be why I’m obsessed with him. There’s a slight chance it might be tied to my deep and abiding love of Robert Redford, Brad Pitt and the great state of Montana. Maybe-ish. Whatever – he’s mine (my preciousss).

Felt Mouse Tutorial - Grandpa FisherMouse

Sorry, Sister #4. I love ya’ and all, but you’re not getting this one. :)
Maybe I should make him a canoe out of toothpicks & popsicle sticks…

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In Honor of Mother’s Day

Sunday is Mother’s Day, and in honor of my mother and families everywhere, I’m re-publishing my “Tale of Five Sisters” page. It’s a glimpse into my childhood with four sisters and a mother who is our touchstone and our heart. Here’s to her and to mothers everywhere. Thank you for all you do!

“A Tale of Five Sisters”

I have four sisters.  Yeah, I know.  I don’t know what my parents were thinking, either.  They look so young and innocent, don’t they?   

Mom & Dad on their wedding day

My Mom & Dad - Their Wedding Day

 Actually, we all blame Dad.  He had that “I Want A Boy” syndrome that drives women to drink.  After five daughters, though, even the old man had to give it up.  I don’t know how my parents survived it.  Well, Dad was in sales and the Bass Club of America, so he was away a lot when I was little.  In truth, I don’t know how Mom did it.  I’m not even sure how some of us girls survived it (especially the teen years).   

Growing up, we were naturally divided into two groups – the “big kids” and the “little kids.”  Sister #1 and I (yes, I am #2 – keep your comments to yourself, Peanut Gallery) were the big kids.    

"The Big Kids"

"The Big Kids" - NanaBread & Sister #1

 We were born 15 months apart, and grew up with that “we were friends first” bond that first siblings share.  Sister #3 came along almost 4 years later and started the “little kid” explosion.  Every 18 months or so, Mom gave birth to yet another girl.  We started to think she was in the “Baby of the Year” Club, like the Weekly Reader program, but for infants.  What can I say? Mom’s initials as a kid were M.O.M. – she should have seen this coming.    

Sisters 3, 4 & 5

"The Little Kids"

 She finally threw in the towel at 5 daughters, and who could blame her.  Not to be graphic, but do you realize how many feminine hygiene products that woman had to buy over the years?  It’s insane!  She should have invested in Kimberly Clark and Midol.  Dad invested in MGD (Miller Genuine Draft) and fishing gear.  That was his escape.  But we made it.  We all made it through.   

The Five of Us

 Years have passed now and we all have families of our own.  It amazes me that we all grew up in the same house with the same parents and yet we all are different and unique.  I like that about us.  We all have different interests and tastes.  We all had different experiences in school and participated in different activities.  We had separate interests and hobbies.  We played different sports or practiced different arts.  We picked completely different types of men as spouses (or no spouse at all).  We all raised our children differently.  And yet, we all click when we come together.  All those differences are like pieces of a worn, favorite puzzle.  All that diversity makes us all fit.  I still don’t know how my Mom pulled it off, but she raised five smart, independent, creative girls who love to laugh.  Sarcasm and humor are part of our DNA.  It’s our coping mechanism.   When we’re together, hilarity always ensues. 

Our Mother

 In closing, I’d like to say “thanks, Mom!”  You are our rock and our foundation.  You taught us to cook, clean, sew, do laundry and dishes, fish, dig a camp toilet, fend for ourselves, pay our bills and be fiercely independent.  You showed us how to use common sense to solve life’s challenges.  You taught us to love things like coupons, greenstamps, Tupperware, chocolate, fresh vegetables from a garden, homemade jelly, handmade quilts and antiques.  You also helped us find the humor in everyday life, and that’s really important.  Thanks for being honest with us when we screw up and cheering for us when we soar.    

For good or bad, you left an indelible mark on the world when you unleashed the five of us.  Sorry, world.  No take-backs!

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A Picnic with the Alligators

No, it’s not a children’s book or a gangster movie. When Mom and two of my sisters were here last week, we packed a picnic and went down to Brazos Bend State Park south of Houston to spend an afternoon under the live oaks. It was a gorgeous day with temperatures in the low 70’s, sunny skies and a great breeze. We went on a Wednesday, so we practically had the entire park to ourselves which made it even more peaceful. We found a picnic table under a big live oak tree dripping with Spanish moss and spent a relaxing afternoon enjoying the scenery and each other’s company. It was beautiful. It was glorious.

There’s something about a picnic on a lake, under a live oak with nothing but the sound of birds chirping that’s just good for the soul. I can’t describe how relaxing it was. While we ate, we broke out the Pente board. Pente was really big back in the early 80’s, if you’re old enough to remember it. We played Pente several times while the girls were here. If you’re not familiar with posts about my family, we’re big into playing cards and board games. Sometimes we even break out the 1,000 piece puzzles. Scrabble, Phase 10 and Cranium rate high on our list, too. Subconsciously, I think we’re all hoping that this ritual of working our brains will help keep senility at bay. Check back in 20 years, and I’ll let you know how that worked out. But on this day, we kept our brain cells hopping with a little low-level strategy and bead stealing while we fed the ravens and grackles.

When lunch was over, we packed up the picnic and game board and took a stroll around the lake in search of alligators. Welcome to south Texas, ladies!

It’s not like we planned to wrestle them, or anything. We just wanted to see if we could find them and take pictures. Baby Sister said that our nephew, Gabe the Babe, would get a kick out of it if we could find and photograph some alligators. As soon as we started down the path around the lake, we found one about 6 feet from the shore. Some days, we just get lucky like that. Guess I should have bought a lottery ticket, too. Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.

Our gator was kind enough to pose for pictures. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but I think he was about 6 feet long, a Pisces, and into red meat, small woodland creatures and macrame. But I’m just guessing. Hello, handsome!

Big Sis took this awesome close-up shot. She wasn’t the least bit afraid to get close enough to get a good picture with her zoom lens. Here’s the proof:

Our Baby Sister was right there with her. Which reminds me…. I forgot to tell them to run in a zig-zag pattern if the gators decide to come out of the water and chase them. Oopsie. Hehe (nervous laugh). Another 10 feet down the path, we ran into a blue heron. Such pretty birds. They really are blue, you know.

There were other gorgeous birds, as well. Like the ibis with his long bill (also seen on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs) and these beautiful red-billed ducks.

The big lake at Brazos Bend is beautiful. It’s wild, marshy and untamed like me (wait…marshy?) and it’s teeming with flora & fauna. The banks of those little islands on the right are home to all sizes of alligators, turtles and birds. I wish I could adequately describe how lovely it is. It’s so peaceful there.

Those decks over the water make an excellent place to stop and take photos.

We took lots of photos. There were so many things to look at. Favorite flower:

These were growing on tall, thin reeds like cattails. I don’t know what they are, but they were absolutely lovely. Favorite trees? Definitely those gorgeous live oaks. They grow low and wide, like big green umbrellas. When they’re covered in Spanish Moss, they’re just magical. They’re one of my favorite trees.

Favorite critter? This baby alligator captured by Big Sis and her zoom (again).

This little guy was perched on a stump. He couldn’t have been a foot long. At least, what we could see was about a foot long. What is it about little baby animals that make them so stinkin’ cute? Even the deadly ones. Baby lions? Cute. Baby hippos? Cute. Baby cobras? Trick question!! No snakes are cute!!

Thank you Mom, Big Sis and Baby Sister. I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed your visit. I enjoyed the antiquing. I enjoyed the baking. I enjoyed that big honkin’ sirloin we grilled up with that baked potato casserole. I enjoyed the chick flicks, the board games, and the pajama nights. But most of all, I enjoyed our picnic in the woods and the chance to just hang out and be ourselves. And laugh. And belch like guys and giggle about it. And swap stories. And relax. It was lovely. And I miss you already. We should totally do this again sometime. And next time, we’ll see if we can’t get all the sisters and My Baby to join us!

If you’d like more information on visiting Brazos Bend State Park, go to:
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/brazos_bend/

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Lilly Bug is Turning One!

Lilly Bug as a Baby Longhorn

Lilly Bug is the baby in our family. She’s our second grandchild; the little sister of Jonah Bear. Her first birthday is in two weeks, and I’m in shock. Where did the past year go, and how did it pass so quickly? It seems like she was just born a few months ago, and now she’s one. That can’t be right. The world must be spinning faster now that she’s here. She’s no longer a baby. In the past few months she has blossomed into a sweet, happy little girl. She wakes up every morning with a smile on her face, singing to herself as if the only option in life is to be content. I wish we all shared her enthusiasm. She loves to laugh and will giggle at just about everything her big brother does. She’s just on the verge of standing without any help, and wants so badly to do everything Jonah Bear does. She jabbers non-stop when she has something to say and the fact that very few clear words have yet to form doesn’t slow her down. She can snuggle and give sweet baby kisses like nobody’s business. She is mommy’s baby and daddy’s little girl. She has him wrapped so tightly around her little finger it’s hard to imagine he can breathe. God help him when she gets older. He’s already threatening not to let her date…ever.

Our Little Lilly Bug is Turning One

Lilly Bug looks a lot like My Baby when she was little. She has the same cute face, the same elvish ears, and the same hair swirly on the back of her head that looks like a hurricane forecast on the Weather Channel. She also has My Baby’s sweet but ornery streak. It appears she will be feisty and strong-willed like her mother. But that’s okay. We like strong feisty women in our family. It’s in the bloodline. She’s named for two dearly departed aunts (Lillie & Lily) who are remembered for their sweet and salty personalities. My Baby was a fiercely independent, adorably funny child. I was also an affectionate, funny joker and all-around good kid. My mother was a loyal, hard-working, sarcastic renaissance woman who could tackle anything and come out a winner. My mother-in-law is nicknamed “Toughie” for a reason. She’s not the type to back down from anything. There’s definitely some good mojo in the gene pool. That’s how we grown them around here. Our ninja is strong, as we like to say. Lilly Bug is no exception. She is well on her way to being a scrappy, loveable little cutie patootie, and that makes us very proud. Happy first birthday, Lilly Bug. Papi and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Things I Love, Volume 2: Mason Jars

The Pioneer Woman’s story on Mason jars this week struck a chord with me (www.thepioneerwoman.com). I love mason jars. I grew up in a home where canning took place every summer as our favorite fruits and vegetables came into season. My mother loved to garden, and we always had the freshest summer foods on our table. She had her own miniature orchard with peach, apple and plum trees, as well. And for a while, even grew Concord grapes on a trellis that ran the length of our back fence. Mom is what you’d call a renaissance woman. She’s a very clever and resourceful girl. I have fond memories of her making her own wine with all that fruit, too. When we picked too much to consume, she would freeze or can it for later. We’d have “canning days” where we’d wash, peel, snap, shuck and slice everything we could get our hands on until it was all packed away for later. My mother made every kind of pickle known to man as well as pickled jalapenos, okra and beets. She packed tomatoes in jars whole, crushed and cooked into spaghetti sauce and salsa. We had peaches, applesauce, apple pie filling, and more. You name it; she canned it.

Of all the things she canned, my favorite was jelly day. On jelly day, Mom would bring out the big soup pot and load it with the fruit of the day. Once she had that going, she would start a loaf or two of homemade bread. She makes really good bread. She had the five of us washing and sterilizing jars while everything bubbled and baked. Just as the bread came out of the oven, the jelly would be cooked down and ready for jars. If you’ve ever made your own jelly, you know you have to skim all the foam off the surface of the fruit before you spoon it into the jars. Mom would use a big metal spoon and carefully scrape the foam into a bowl. Once she was done, my sisters and I would butter up some warm bread and slather on the jelly foam. Oh, hallelujah for sweet and fluffy jelly foam! As a child, I had two favorite kitchen pleasures – licking the beaters and making jelly foam sandwiches on warm fresh bread. Have mercy.

Thanks to Mom, I have a deeply rooted love of canning jars. I have an entire cabinet in my kitchen full of them – all shapes and sizes. It pains me deeply to put any jar in the recycling bin. It really does. I can’t let them go. They’re like family pets or small children. They should be treasured. I use them for storing leftovers, collecting change from my pockets, storing rice and grains in my pantry and everything in between. I’ve been known to drop votive candles into smaller jars and use them when the power goes out. Did you know you can also wrap wire around the top of small jelly jars, drop in a lighted votive candle and hang them from trees or light fixtures for parties? It’s simple and lovely.

Those old-school jars with the spring hinge lids are the ones I love the best. I recently found lime curd on the clearance rack at the Williams Sonoma outlet for $2.97 a jar. I bought two. It’s not that I’m a big fan of lime curd; I just had to have the jars it came in. I’ll eventually use the lime curd, but the jars are the real treasure here. I love to use them around the house. I keep a large one in my spice cabinet filled with kosher salt. I love that my old measuring spoon set fits perfectly in the hinge on the side (very convenient). I also keep one in the laundry room to hold colorful clothespins. I love keeping things in clear glass jars. It’s a functional and homey way to decorate any shelf. You never have to wonder where something is. I’m thinking that one of my new lime curd jars will be used as my button jar in the sewing room. I may fill the other one with dark chocolate peanut M&M’s. I will fill them, display them, and love them proudly.

Things I Love - Canning Jars with Spring Hinge Lids

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Mom’s Coffee Shortbread Cookies

My mother makes the most extraordinary coffee shortbread cookies. It’s a unique recipe I’ve never found anywhere else. I love that they are made from simple ingredients and are easy to make. These are perfect with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, and even better when they’re dunked. And if you want to get fancy, you can drizzle them or dip them in dark chocolate.

Mom's Crispy Coffee Shortbread Cookies

Here’s the recipe:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2-3 tablespoons instant coffee, crushed to dust
2 cups all-purpose flour
3-4 tablespoons sugar, for dusting

In a large bowl, beat butter with a mixer until creamy. Add the brown sugar and coffee dust (I like to crush the coffee granules with the back of a spoon until it’s powdered); beat until well blended. Stir in the flour and mix well. The dough will seem pretty crumbly, not creamy like a chocolate chip cookie dough, and that’s good. Using a spatula or your hands, press the dough into a ball and then roll into a log. Wrap in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to firm up.

To bake, pre-heat the oven to 300F. Once the dough is firm, you have two choices. To make them like my mother does, cut the dough into pieces and roll into ping-pong sized balls. Place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Dip a glass into sugar and use it to flatten each dough ball to 1/4″ thick (it helps on the first one to dampen the bottom of the glass first; after that the butter from the cookie dough will help the sugar to stick to the glass). If you want to make them like I do, slice the log into rounds 1/4″ thick, arrange on ungreased cookie sheets so they’re 1″ apart, and sprinkle them liberally with sugar. Either way, the goal is to make the cookies fairly thin so they crisp up when they’re done. Bake at 300F for 20 minutes, turning the tray around after 10 minutes. Cool completely; the cookies will crisp up as they cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Then break out the coffee pot or that box of hot cocoa mix and start dunking.

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